Nutrition Q&A

Nutrition Q&A: Shifting Mentalities

I personally like to think of food as nourishment, giving it a more meaningful purpose than simply thinking of it as fuel. You fuel a machine; you nourish a living thing. Occasionally, we indulge beyond what we “need” to what we “crave” or “want”. This is not “unhealthy”, as long as it is the exception and not the rule.

Nutrition Q&A 3/19/21

Question from Dan: NUTRITION QUESTION regarding mindset toward food & “unhealthy foods.”

I’ve found that, in the past, when I’m successfully sticking to a “diet”—and that word isn’t poisoned to me, I don’t think of “diet” as a short-term extreme intervention but just how I’m eating—I find that I adopt a disdainful attitude toward certain foods & how others eat. While before “the diet” I might have been too accepting of eating a pleasurable food, I doubt that disdain is a healthy way of thinking of food either.
So, what is a healthy way of thinking about food? Furthermore, and maybe more important, how do you go about shifting your mentality and feelings about food?

Answer:

In order to conceptualize a “healthy way” of thinking about food we must first understand that people have infinite and diametrical views on what healthy is. A vegan may look at meat as poison to the body. To someone following a ketogenic approach, a bowl of rice is unthinkable. Milk, does it do a body good, or does it contribute to a myriad of ailments? Our thoughts and feelings about food are rooted in our prior experiences, culture, politics, media, opinions of our peers, and an innumerable number of other factors. Today’s conventional thinking may align on some basics such as too much sugar and processed foods are bad for us, but we can find opposing viewpoints for just about anything in our diets—wheat, whole eggs, red meat, etc.

Over time, we all create a construct of what healthy is and what falls into the good and bad categories. To think of food in a healthy way, we must zoom out and look at the big picture rather than focus solely on specific foods or food groups. We all know that a fast-food burger, fries, and soda may not be the “best” choice, but we cannot examine that choice in isolation. What if that was the one “dirty” meal all week? Would that change your perception?

With nutrition—as with health in general—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nobody (as far as I know of) ate a single Twinkie or a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and died. Rather than viewing foods in a binary manner like “healthy” or “unhealthy,” think of food in an ongoing continuum in which we get an opportunity to make a choice every time we eat or drink. We strive to keep most of these choices in the healthy zone, but there will be occasional blips. After all, we are human, and we eat for reasons other than hunger alone.

I personally like to think of food as nourishment, giving it a more meaningful purpose than simply thinking of it as fuel. You fuel a machine; you nourish a living thing. Occasionally, we indulge beyond what we “need” to what we “crave” or “want”. This is not “unhealthy”, as long as it is the exception and not the rule.

Accomplishing a nutritional goal is both a science and an art. To demonstrate my point, imagine a mathematical computation that yields the result of 10. Did you think of 5 plus 5? The Square Root of 100? Some other magical combination of processes involving factorials, integrals, and differential equations? Whichever method you chose, they are all scientifically correct if your answer is, in fact, 10. Your choice of how you arrived at 10 is the art. Feeling judgmental about someone else’s diet or food choice would be akin to judging their mathematical methods. As long as they are making progress towards their goal…let them express their art of choice without judgement.

It is very rare that you will change someone’s behavior simply by telling them a certain food will eventually kill them. The solution is to help them understand their relationship with food, how food affects their body, and empower them to take control of their nutrition.


Coach Gillian Ward is Barbell Logic’s Director of Nutrition. She has spent a lifetime as a high-performing athlete, coach, and fitness and nutrition educator. If you have a question for Coach Gillian that you’d like to see answered in future issues of the Friday Five Newsletter, please fill out the form below.

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